le tasting room

Loire wine tours, tastings, day trips from Paris & short breaks organised by experienced English wine trade professionals.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Logis Saint Mexme- a great chambre d'hotes in Chinon

We spent a couple of days in and around Chinon last week and had the good fortune to stay at the Logis Saint Mexme. Overlooking the Collégiale de St Mexme, it's a beautiful 15th century former canonial property owned by Héléne and Jean Michel Craye in Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau, just a 5 minute walk from the centre of Chinon.

We opted for la Suite Saint Mexme which has a bedroom, contemporary bathroom (with separate loo) and it's own large living room which overlooks the Collégiale. Antiques mix with contemporary upholstery to provide a warm, unstuffy atmosphere. A large collection of books in both English and French, both classic and modern, games for those happy to stay put, and a range of CD's to suit every possible musical taste add those finishing touches. You can make yourself a cup of coffee in the room or pop out into the corridor where Héléne has installed a small fridge stocked with bottled water, juices and beers.

A super breakfast is included in the cost (83€ for two per night for the suite, 67€ for the double room) and is served in the dining room on the ground floor where the windows open up onto the pretty walled garden. We enjoyed fresh fruit salad with yoghurt and a selection of patisseries (pain au chocolat, brioche, croissant) and breads ranging from sweet white to seedy baguette and earthy campagne. Héléne also provides a good variety of cereals for those that can find enough space! Of course, a large jug of tea, coffee or chocolate accompanies everything as well as orange juice.

We spent a couple of hours reading and relaxing while working our way through the CD's before wandering in to the centre of town for dinner at Les Années 30. The perfect place to retreat to after a 'hard' day talking business with local winemakers.

So, if you're planning a visit to Chinon and are looking for a great place to stay, we can't recommend it highly enough. You need to book well in advance as there are only 2 rooms. We were extremely lucky to find the suite available when we called. Héléne speaks good English despite her protests to the contrary and is a lively and charming hostess who is keen to help all her guests make the most of their stay. She is on hand to give recommendations for restaurants and wineries to visit and give advice where needed.

It's only an hour away from us, so why not combine a couple of nights in Chinon with a day in the countryside at le tasting room learning all about the wines of the region.

See the website for better photos than ours and call or email directly for availability.

Héléne et Jean Michel Craye
Losig Saint Mexme
115 Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau
37500 Chinon

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Domaine Grisard Vin de Savoie Mondeuse 06

Last night we tried a bottle of Savoie wine that Wink Lorch and Brett Jones of Wine Travel Guides brought last week when they came to le tasting room for lunch. Wink is a specialist in Jura & Savoie (spending half her time in this beautiful mountainous region and half in London) so it came well recommended.

Mondeuse is not a grape variety that many are familiar with (us included). It's an old and distinctive grape variety that produces wines relatively high in acidity with great colour. Originally it was thought to be the same as the Refosco of Northern Italy but this has been shown not to be the case in recent years.

It's always difficult to assess a wine when you have no point of reference. The last time I tried a Mondeuse was about 4 years ago while walking in the Alps during the summer.
On the nose we amusingly likened it first to Gamay, then found Pinot Noir notes and finally a big whiff of pepper came through. My reaction was ' a masculine version of Gruner Veltliner'. On the palate, the acidity is marked, it's juicy and has good fruit and quite a bit of tannin but not austerely so. It's a spicey wine and it went well with the chargrilled belly pork that we were having for dinner. A super change.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Different forms of viticulture

Vinegrowing is broadly divided into four categories and it can sometimes be difficult to understand the differences between them. Here is a brief explanation of the main types.

Conventional Viticulture

Vineyard close to us - grapes sold to one of the local sparkling wine producers in Saumur

The vine rules supreme and at the expense of all other vegetation that gets in its way in the vineyard. Weeds are generally kept under control using chemicals and cover crops between the rows are rarely found. Of course, at the same time, natural predators that would otherwise be found in the vineyard can also be obliterated so in many ways this increases the need for further treatments to be applied. Treatments are applied on a regular basis according to a spray calendar often with little regard to actual necessity. None of the growers that we deal with operate on this basis.

Lutte Raisonnée

Chateau de la Varrière in Brissac - treatments reduced to a minimum to preserve grape quality

We deal with quite a few growers that operate a 'lutte raisonnée' policy. The literal translation is reasoned fight/struggle and it means that growers tolerate a limited amount of disease and/or problem within their vineyards as a totally normal state of affairs but when it becomes a real problem then they step in and take action which can mean using chemicals and pesticides. This threshhold is however for the individual grower to decide so the term covers a wide spectrum of what is and is not acceptable. For the majority of our growers, this is very close to organic viticulture but without the certification. You will often find grass, wild flowers or cover crops between the rows or they are cultivated to maintain soil structure. Sprays are kept to an absolute minimum and levels of Sulphur and Copper (used to fight against downy and powdery mildew) are applied with a light hand. Often many organic principals are embraced - but - the rules are not set in stone so this gives them a free hand in times of real problem.


Les Fougeraies - vineyard tended by Loic Mahe - producer in Savennieres and Brissac - fully organic and embracing some biodynamic principals

The organic grower is just as interested in maintaining a healthy ecosystem around the vine and in the vineyard as maintaining healthy vines themselves. All chemicals and pesticides are banned with the exception of Sulphur and Copper (used as above) and the land has to undergo a period of conversion to achieve organic status if sprays containing chemicals and pesticides have been used previously. Care is taken to provide a hospitable environment for birds, bees and wildlife as well as the micro flora and fauna. Cover crops are often planted between the rows which can later be ploughed back into the soil providing natural green compost and organic compost may be applied by tractor or by horse. Natural predators play a part in controlling pests in the vineyard. Many of our growers have organic vineyards and their genuine passion shines through in the wines that they make. They generally add very small amounts of suplur during processing, leave the wines to finish their fermentations naturally and rarely add cultivated yeasts.


One of Nicholas Joly's (France's leading bio-dynamic exponent) vineyards at Chateau de la Roches aux Moines

An increasing number of our growers are both Organic and Biodynamic. The biodynamic movement was started by Rudolph Steiner in the 1920's and essentially believes that everything is influenced by the solar system, the stars and the cosmos. Viticultural practices in the vineyard are timed to coincide with the moon and there is a strong belief that certain days are better than others for roots, flowers, fruit and leaves. Homeopathic 'tisanes' are applied to the vineyard during the year and 'horn' manure is buried during the Autumn equinox and dug up and sprayed during the Spring equinox. You may be sceptical about the effectiveness of this approach - many are. All I can say is that those that embrace it seem to make fabulous wines so even if it is just a 'belief', if it leads to great wine and involves a totally natural, non interventionist approach to vinegrowing and winemaking - why not?

Friday, 7 August 2009

Angers - Asleep in August

I'd like to have a grumble about Angers in August. Don't get me wrong, we love Angers - spent a year at University there, know it like the back of our hands, eat there lots, it's great for cinema and culture but.... in August, it's a ghost town.

How can a city like Angers afford to close down during the busiest tourist month of the year? Not only are all the decent restaurants closed (Favre d'Anne, Petit Comptoir, Chez Remi to name but a few) but half the shops are too.

Now I know it's a tricky place at present with the disruption caused by putting in the new tramway but - surely, this is not the month to go to sleep?

I do have sympathy for the rural restaurants closing during August as they rely upon local trade and by and large the French do still go away in August - but - a city that wants to put itself on the map - come on. Am I alone in finding this frustrating?

We are in the fortunate position of knowing Angers well but if you are a tourist visiting Anjou for the first time - you could spend an hour wandering around trying to find somewhere open to eat.